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SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 6)

It’s Day 6 of the Kyushu basho and already the top of the leaderboard is down to two rikishi. But what makes that truly incredible is that one is a komusubi (Takakeisho) and the other is an M2 (Tochiozan). Not only that, with the exception of ozeki Takayasu, all of the other sanyaku rikishi already have two or more losses.

Yesterday was a microcosm of the tournament so far for the upper-rankers. ALL of the sanyaku rikishi lost (except for Takakeisho, of course), and most of them looked bad doing it. Worst of all was Takayasu, who went from looking strong, in control, and confident on Days 1–4, but seemed utterly hapless on Thursday. Meanwhile, sekiwake Mitakeumi (who entered this basho with hopes of earning a promotion to ozeki) was completely bamboozled by komusubi Kaisei, who was kyujo for the first two days of the tournament and still seemed stiff and a little unsteady.

This certainly is making for an unpredictable tournament. No one expects Takakeisho and Tochiozan to keep up their dominance for the whole two weeks. Chances are that this basho will be taken by a rikishi with fewer than 13 wins, which is extremely uncommon. But that also means the chances are good that the yusho [tournament championship] will be decided in a playoff after the end of the regular matches on Sunday. 

As exciting as that would be, I have to say that from where I sit here on Day 6, I’d much rather see the overall quality of the sumo go up a notch in Week 2 and have just a couple of high-performing rikishi take the lead. On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong about Tochiozan and Takakeisho—maybe they ARE up to the task, and THEY are the high-performing rikishi I’m asking for.

Today’s top matches include:

M9 Kotoshogiku (3–2) vs. M7 Shohozan (2–3)—A hard-fought, gutsy match that lasts nearly a full minute-and-a-half. THIS is good sumo. (6:00)
M2 Tochiozan (5–0) vs. M3 Nishikigi (1–4)—Undefeated Tochiozan takes on Nishikigi, who just notched his first win of the basho yesterday (though it WAS over ozeki Goeido). (9:45)
Komusubi Takakeisho (5–0) vs. komusubi Kaisei (1–2–2)—Undefeated Takakeisho takes on Kaisei, who just notched his first win of the basho yesterday (though it WAS over sekiwake Mitakeumi). (10:30)
M2 Tamawashi (3–2) vs. ozeki Takayasu (4–1)—Takayasu had a big let down yesterday. He needs to refocus right away so he can stay near the top of the mix for the yusho race. (12:20)

DINOvember: THUMP!

Dinosaurs came all sizes, y’know.

SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 5)

Holy cats! This is one crazy basho! It’s only Day 5 and already there are a scant THREE rikishi undefeated and atop the leaderboard—ozeki Takayasu, komusubi Takakeisho, and M2 Tochiozan. On top of that, for the first time in 87 years, a yokozuna has started a tournament 0–4.

Kisenosato is in trouble, like real, career ending trouble. His loss yesterday to Tochiozan puts this in historically bad territory, and as of this writing he STILL isn’t withdrawing from the tournament. I suppose he must think that his only hope of signicantly saving face is to try to turn up the heat on his performance and get to the end of the basho with at least a kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. In point of fact, if he DOES start winning, he still can land double-digit wins and salvage a record that is acceptable for a yokozuna. The farther he falls short of that, the more likely that the Kyokai [Sumo Association] will apply pressure to force him into retirement. Finding a reason to withdraw and go kyujo [absent due to injury] would almost certainly let him regroup and try again in January, but it’s likely that he’d have to endure lots of chatter among the sports journalists for the two months until then. Yokozuna are renowned for their pride, and I’m sure all that nattering would bruise Kisenosato’s.

It’s amazing how, even in his absence, Hakuho seems to be casting a shadow over the tournament. He’s been injured, and missed a great many recent basho, but when he does compete he is still the dominant force (as witnessed by his perfect 15–0 performance in September). Kisenosato, even if he does manage to have a satisfying conclusion here in Kyushu, seems to be inevitably teetering on the end of his career. And even with Hakuho out of the picture, none of the ozeki or any of the young rising stars seem to be able to step up front and be a dominant force.

That’s a little unfair because so far Takayasu has had a VERY strong tournament. But he’s started that way a few times in recent basho, and every time he seems to peter out during Week 2. Until he manages to stay dominant for a COMPLETE tournament, or better yet, to actually win a yusho [tournament championship] he can’t really lay claim to dominating the field. 

Both ozeki Goeido and sekiwake Mitakeumi HAVE managed to win a yusho—ONCE. And they continue to struggle to get more than eleven wins in any basho, let alone in multiple tournaments in a row. THAT is the kind of performance that is EXPECTED from a yokozuna. 

After today we will be one-third of the way through the Kyushu Basho. During a strong tournament, the yusho race would be wide open because five or more rikishi were undefeated and showing no sign of stumbling. This year, though, the race is wide open because just about EVERYONE is stumbling or somehow suspect. It makes for an exciting basho, but not for what I’d call “good sumo.” And this is happening up and down the banzuke [ranking sheet]. Even the lower Maegashira rikishi are looking flustered and unfocused. 

One of the best things about sumo, though, is that fortunes can change overnight. The rikishi don’t need to go back for training or learning new techniques, they just have to calm their minds, find their rhythm, and fight with all their spirit. Beginning today, some or all of the competitors could wake up and find themselves “in the groove,” and suddenly the whole nature of the basho would be transformed. 

Let’s hope for that.

UPDATE: Kisenosato has withdrawn from the tournament. It’s the smart move.

Today’s most interesting matches include:

M15 Meisei (3–1) vs. M12 Endo (2–2)—This is the kind of spirited match I’m hoping we’ll see more of over the remainder of the basho. (2:20)
M6 Takanoiwa (1–3) vs. M4 Yoshikaze (2–2)—Another high-energy match. Of course, Yoshikaze pretty much brings that kind of performance to the dohyo every day. (6:40)
Komusubi Takakeisho (4–0) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (1–3)—Co-leader Takakeisho takes on yet another rikishi ranked higher than him (having already beaten a yokozuna and an ozeki). Ichinojo isn’t the most skilful opponent, but he is a huge and heavy one, and very hard to push around. (9:00)
Ozeki Goeido (2–2) vs. M3 Nishikigi (0–4)—Goeido stumbled again yesterday. Will he get back on track and put himself back into the mix for the yusho, or will he slip into another of his mental-let-down phases until he’s lost enough times to relieve him of any the pressure of contending? (11:20)
M2 Tochiozan (4–0) vs. ozeki Takayasu (4–0)—The other two co-leaders go head-to-head, meaning that at best there will be a two-way tie at the top tomorrow. Interestingly, Tochiozan is another rikishi who historically has dominated Takayasu, with a 19–7 record in their past meetings. Takayasu has overcome two of his career nemeses already this basho. Can he do so again today? (14:00)

DINOvember: Spotted Dimetrodon

SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 4)

It’s Day 4 of the Kyushu Basho and, believe it or not, there are only FOUR rikishi who enter the day undefeated—ozeki Takayasu, komusubi Takakeisho, M2 Tochiozan, and M10 Sadanoumi. Compare that to last basho when Day 4 had all three yokozuna, Takayasu, and a half-dozen others starting out 3–0.

Let’s start with the weirdest thing of all, yokozuna Kisenosato lost again on Tuesday, putting him at 0–3. That’s something that only happened to him twice during all his six years as an ozeki. Indeed it’s nearly twenty-seven years since ANY yokozuna has started this badly (Asahifuji in January 1992). Here’s the really crazy thing, according to his oyakata [stable manager], Kisenosato is planning to come back and fight on Day 4.

Usually when a yokozuna is performing this badly, he announces some real or imagined injury and goes kyujo [absent due to injury] for the rest of the basho, to save face for him and the Kyokai [Sumo Association]. Kisenosato has only just come back from members of the Kyokai publicly considering whether he ought to retire, so he has to be careful about triggering a recurrence of that. (The Kyokai has the power to FORCE him to retire, if it is in the best interest of the sport.) 

The last yokozuna to start 0–3 and remain in the basho was iwhen Onokuni did so and managed to barely eke out an 8–7 kachi-koshi [majority of wins]  the 1988 Aki Basho (which turned out to be the final completed tournament of his career). If Kisenosato goes through with staying in the current competition, he’d better likewise at least finish with a kachikoshi or I think Kyushu might very well mark his final appearance on the dohyo. 

Also being upset yesterday was ozeki Goeido, who dropped his second in a row, this time to M2 Tochiozan—who is now 3–0 having beaten the ozeki, and the two sekiwake, Mitakeumi and Ichinojo. The funny thing is, that although all three of his victories have had different kimarite [winning maneuvers], Tochiozan has relied on basically the same move to win each match. If you go back to the videos, you’ll see that each time he’s made a quick move to his left while doing a beltless shoulder throw. His opponent today ought to be wary of such a maneuver. Oh, and that opponent, as it turns out, is scheduled to be Kisenosato.

Goeido has a habit of getting into a bad head space after taking an unexpected loss, and that generally takes him out of contention for the yusho [tournament championship]. But given how unpredictably this tournament is going, it seems likely that the winning total will be 12 or 13 wins, and that is still within his reach, if the ozeki can refocus himself. I’m not saying I think that’s likely. As you may recall, I’m very much down on Goeido and his habit of defeating himself. But I’d be remiss in my reporting duties if I didn’t acknowledge that he absolutely CAN still be a factor and a contender in the yusho race.

Ozeki Tochinoshin notched his second win yesterday against M1 Myogiryu, but he still looked out of rhythm and on the defensive. There doesn’t seem to be anything physically wrong with him, but if the big Georgian doesn’t get his head straight he’s going to have increasing trouble as the middle weekend approaches and the skill level of his opponents increases.

Meanwhile, ozeki Takayasu continues to look strong and confident. Over the past two days he’s easily defeated a pair of rikishi that normally give him great problems—first Myogiryu and then M1 Hokutofuji. Today he’s got an easier task against M3 Nishikigi. Also looking good was sekiwake Mitakeumi, who beat Nishikigi with very little difficulty. Given how the first three days of the basho have gone, Takayasu and Mitakeumi seem to be the rikishi to watch. 

Matches of particular interest today include:

M9 Kotoshogiku (2–1) vs. M10 Sadanoumi (3–0)—Since there are only four undefeated rikishi atop the leaderboard, let’s have a look at them all today. Sadanoumi is doing well so far, but former-ozeki Kotoshogiku is the toughest opponent he’s faced by far.  (4:15)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–1) vs. M1 Myogiryu (1–2)
—A good, scrappy match between two very good rikishi. (9:45)
Komusubi Takakeisho (3–0) vs. M4 Shodai (2–1)—Takakeisho is on a real tear this basho, having notched wins against a yokozuna and an ozeki in the first few days. Shodai isn’t nearly as high ranked, but he is a very dangerous rikishi. Should be a good match.  (9:00)
M3 Nishikigi (0–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (3–0)—Takayasu has been fighting like a man with a destiny. Today is the first time he gets a relatively easy match. The big question is whether he will keep his focus or let himself have a mental day off. (12:30)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (0–3) vs. M2 Tochiozan (3–0)—The big match of the day. Kisenosato needs to get his yokozuna groove back or this is going to be a historically bad tournament, and possibly one that will end his career. Meanwhile, Tochiozan has looked terrific ths basho, already having beaten an ozeki and two sekiwake. (13:45)

DINOvember: Triceratopses

This started as a doodle of the mama … but clearly the finished piece is all about the baby!

SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 3)

We’re only at Day 3 of the Kyushu Basho and already only TWO of the sanyaku rikishi are undefeated—ozeki Takayasu and komusubi Takakeisho. And Takakeisho has beaten a yokozuna and ozeki in those two matches! That’s a pretty good sign that this is going to be a wildly unpredictable tournament, which means a lot of fun and excitement for us, the fans.

Yokozuna Kisenosato is in just his second tournament back after having missed eight in a row. His goal is to show that he’s healthy and an effective yokozuna (the injury that knocked him out for so long happened just after his promotion, so while he had a long and dominant reign as an ozeki, he has yet to really strut his stuff as a yokozuna). But he lost again on Monday, this time to M1 Myogiryu, meaning that not only is he 0–2 but he also gave up a kinboshi [gold star award for rank-and-filers who beat a yokozuna]. This is NOT how a yokozuna is supposed to perform. If he loses again today, or gets to 4 losses before Week 2 begins, I predict that he’ll pull out and join the other yokozuna as kyujo [absent due to injury] . . . which would open up the yusho [tournament championship] race even further!

Ozeki Goeido lost on Day 2, getting slapped to the ground by komusubi Takakeisho. It’s hard to say that Takakeisho is actually doing dominant sumo. In point of fact, he’s doing energetic but wild, uncontrolled sumo. It’s just that neither Goeido nor Kisenosato were motivated to step in and take control of their matches. Both of the upper-rankers were content to sit back and fight defensively, waiting for Takakeisho to make a mistake or get tired. In both cases, he connected with a flailing arm that knocked his opponents off their feet. I don’t think there’s any way he can keep that up all tournament and, in fact, I expect that his next high-ranked opponents will make a point of stepping in, grabbing the mawashi [belt], and putting the little spark plug in his place. Luckily for Takakeisho, he faces M3 Ryuden today.

Ozeki Tochinoshin and sekiwake Mitakeumi both recovered from Day 1 losses with wins on Day 2, but neither one looked especially dominant. Hopefully they’ve shaken off whatever was bothering them and will come back here on Day 3 looking more like their usual selves.

Ozeki Takayasu remains the strongest of the top-rankers, dispatching his first two opponents with ease. This is deceptively important because previously both Miyogiryu and Hokutofuji had dominated Takayasu, so it’s a show of strength and confidence that he was able to beat them so handily. Today he faces komusubi Kaisei, who is returning to action having missed Days 1 and 2 due to an ankle injury. It’s anybody’s guess what shape he’ll be in when he steps onto the dohyo, but given how the rest of the upper ranks are performing, it’s entirely possible that he can still contend for the yusho despite having forfeited a pair of matches. 

Today’s matches to watch include:

M13 Onosho (2–0) vs. M13 Takanosho (0–2)—Onosho is a strong young rikishi who had a terrible tournament in September, but so far has looked sharp in Kyushu. Takanosho is in only his second tournament fighting in the top division, and has struggled so far this week. (2:05)
M10 Sadanoumi (2–0) vs. M10 Yutakayama (0–2)—A great, scrappy match between two mid-level rikishi. (4:25)
Ozeki Goeido (1–1) vs. M2 Tochiozan (2–0)—Goeido lost yesterday to a more motivated Takakeisho, who started the tournament with big upset wins. Today he faces Tochiozan, who has beaten both sekiwake. Can he resist being next on the menu for another hungry upstart? (11:15)
M1 Miyogiryu (1–1) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (1–1)—Tochinoshin has seemed out of sync at the tachi-ai [initial charge] on the first couple of days, and has struggled because of it. He’ll have a much easier go of it if he can somehow find his rhythm. (12:20)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (0–2) vs. M1 Hokutofuji (0–2)—Kisenosato needs to start performing like a yokozuna or he’ll have to withdraw from this tournament AND worry about the Kyokai [Sumo Association] reopening the idea of forcing his retirement. (13:30)

DINOvember: Surprise!

SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 2)

Well, the Kyushu Basho certainly got started with a bang! Opening day saw a whole bunch of upsets meaning that we’ve already got a scramble for the yusho [tournament championship] hunt here on Day 2.

At the top of the unexpected losers list was yokozuna Kisenosato. Sure, he’s had troubles against this opponent—komusubi Takakeisho—in the past, but this was Day 1, he is the only yokozuna in the competition, and he wanted to really set a strong tone for the tournament. Instead, Kisenosato seemed almost lackadaisical, letting Takakeisho set the pace and tone of the match. And in the end, the wild-swinging komusubi connected with a left and knocked the yokozuna on his face. I’m pretty sure we’ll see Kisenosato gather his wits and pride and look stronger, at least for the next few days. But he sure did miss a chance to come out and make a definitive statement about being the leader of the pack.

Also losing because of sloppy sumo was ozeki Tochinoshin. He’s my pick to win the tournament, but if he keeps up this way I’ll be proven wrong before the end of Week 1. Word is that he’s healthy and fully recovered from the foot injuries that plagued him the last few tournaments, and he looked in fine shape. But against M2 Tamawashi he was lazy at the tachi-ai [initial charge] and got bulled out of the ring before he even knew what was happening. Like Kisenosato, I expect that Tochinoshin will put in a better performance beginning today. After all, he’s on the verge of taking the prize for most overall wins in 2018, but to do that he has to actually WIN some here in Kyushu.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi also started the tournament off poorly. He’s still got a chance to get a promotion to ozeki IF he does well enough in the basho. But “well enough” means getting at least 11 wins (and 12 would be better) including solid ones over ozeki and yokozuna. But on Day 1 he looked sleepy and unmotivated in his match against M2 Tochiozan.

Even the top rankers who won on opening day for the most part failed to do so convincingly. Ozeki Goeido got himself in real trouble against M1 Hokutofuji, but he lucked out. His opponent had even lazier footwork than he did. Meanwhile, sekiwake Ichinojo got backed up to the ring’s edge and almost was toppled by M2 Nishikigi, before he remembered that he weighs 227kg (500lbs) and just refused to budge. 

In fact, the only one of the top-ranked rikishi who looked strong on Day 1 was ozeki Takayasu. He faced M1 Myogiryu, who has dominated their career matches, winning 11 of the 15 times they’ve previously met. You’d never know that by the way things went on Sunday. Takayasu was quick and strong off the tachi-ai and marched Myogiryu straight out of the ring with no fuss whatsoever. 

So it looks like were going to have a highly unpredictable tournament over the next two weeks, which sounds like a lot of fun and excitement to me! Today’s top matches include:

M14 Chiyoshoma (1–0) vs. M15 Daiamami (1–0)—A scrappy match between two rikishi who are fighting to stay in the top division. It’s decided by the unusual kekaeshi [minor inner foot sweep] technique. (1:55)
Ozeki Goeido (1–0) vs. komusubi Takakeisho (1–0)—Goeido won yesterday, but didn’t look sharp. His opponent today beat yokozuna Kisenosato on Day 1, so putting Takakeisho in his place would give Goeido a chance to show he’s serious about contending for this yusho. (9:20)
M3 Nishikigi (0–1) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (0–1)—Tochinoshin looked out of sorts on Day 1. He can still contend for the championship if he turns things around starting today. (9:55)
M1 Hokutofuji (0–1) vs. ozeki Takayasu (1–0)—Takayasu came out strong yesterday, beating someone who had previously dominated him. He’s facing another opponent like that today as Hokutofuji leads their previous meetings 3–1. (10:45)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (0–1) vs. M1 Myogiryu (0–1)—Kisenosato is the only yokozuna in action this basho, and he began with a loss on Day 1. There’s a lot of pressure on him to be more “yokozuna-like” and perform like a grand champion. (12:15)

DINOvember: Nervous Parasaurolophus